Sunday, January 8, 2012

Occhipinti, part II, and quaffing Malbec in the Bronx

The 2009 SP68 Occhipinti Frappato/Nero d’Avola entranced me from the first sip I took at a late lunch on a Friday afternoon at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I bought it for 2B Sales in September, for 1B Sales last month (1B sits next to 2B and orders a bottle at a time), and for a new club member this past week, a gregarious security guard at the front desk of my building who has relatives in Marsala, Sicily and whose sister owns a house there.
My enthusiasm extended to wines from COS (the O is for Arianna Occhipinti’s uncle Guisto – the only firm basis for my interest), a producer based in Vittoria, a town near the southeast corner of Sicily. 1B Sales liked the SP68, and this week I picked her up a COS 2010 Frappato/Nero d’Avola blend aged in clay anphorae, the vessels in which wine was stored and transported in the ancient Mediterranean. A few other Sicilian producers use amphorae, is reputedly a little nervier and edgier than wines aged in oak. COS may feel more comfortable with the material because it ferments and ages its other wines in concrete rather than oak. (
I cracked open Occhipinti’s 2008 Frappato last night with the MOME, who said he needed a few drinks to get him through a late shift at the Park Slope Food Coop, a relic of the neighborhood’s hippie past. Frappato gets little respect; the Oxford Companion to Wine gives it four lines in which the book dismisses it as a blending grape that should add “fruit and freshness to the more powerful Nero d’Avola.” 
Occhipinti did a lot better than that. The first glass of her 2008 Frappato smelled and tasted of tannins and spice in a balanced, very attractive way, and twenty minutes in the refrigerator brought out some cherry, which was also controlled. The store recommended serving this with cured ventresca, or tuna belly, which sadly was not to be found in Park Slope, but pizza and some Middle Eastern vegetarian food with a little chili pepper worked well. This wine like the 2009 SP68 left an impression of freshness and liveliness.  
Johnny Bronx isn’t about to put tuna guts into his belly. He likes a good steak grilled rare and a robust red wine to match. JB also wants that robust red to be affordable, which means he likes Malbecs from Argentina. He purchased a few of them in December and wanted two more this week, but the store was out, and MFWC returned with another affordable Malbec, the 2009 Terra Rosa.
Malbec is a French grape that may be used in red Bordeaux along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère. But it fell out of favor in Bordeaux, where plantings fell by 70% between 1970 and 2000. It’s still predominant in Cahors, a town about 150 miles east of Bordeaux, but it’s now most closely associated in the American wine drinker’s mind with Argentina, where it’s become the dominant red grape and one commonly used in single-varietal wines. Another erstwhile MFWC member was quite fond of Cuma’s $12 Malbec. Judging by the Wine Library website (WL is the largest wine story in the country), it’s hard to spend more than $30 on an Argentine Malbec, which is just fine with Johnny Bronx. 

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